25 Bridal Fashion Terms You Should Know

By Vinka Design and Maria Yeonhee Ji

Navigating the bridal industry to find the right wedding dress for you is hard enough - it’s even harder if you don’t have the words to describe what you’re looking for. There will be some silhouettes, lengths, and necklines that flatter your frame more than others. When dress shopping, it’s good to try on one of each style (unless you already know that certain styles don’t suit you), pick a favourite, and then explore the options from there. To make this process so much easier, and to help you communicate your ideas to your designer if you’re going down the bespoke route, we’ve compiled a list with the help of Vinka Design, that includes some important bridal fashion terms and their definitions.

SILHOUETTES

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Images by Kate Little Photography

1/ A-Line

The outline of the dress (or just the skirt) resembles the shape of the letter A. Narrow at the waist, and flaring outward at the levels of the hips and thighs, this is a very flattering silhouette for most body types as long as the length is selected appropriately. 

2/ Ball Gown 

The most traditional of wedding dress silhouettes, the ball gown consists of a fitted bodice and voluminous skirt for a fairytale look. The full skirt hides the lower half of the body, so is most flattering on pear-shaped brides (but suits many other body types as well). 

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Image by Joanna Wickham

3/ Column/Sheath 

This is a design that is relatively form-fitting from the neckline to the hem. The narrow fit accentuates curves, so these types of dresses would look best on brides with hourglass shapes. Although it has an elongating effect, this comes at the expense of slightly restricted movement (a slit can remedy this inconvenience). Brides with straighter or boxy body shapes can still opt for this silhouette as long as the dress has a feature such as a sash that will add more definition at the waistline. 

4/ MERMAID

This silhouette is one that warrants confidence from the wearer. Body-hugging, it is a silhouette that hugs every curve from the bust to the knees, before flaring out into a tail like that of a mermaid. A sophisticated silhouette that creates a dramatic effect, the mermaid silhouette is more flattering on slender figures. 

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5/ Trumpet

Very similar to the mermaid silhouette (and often misunderstood to be a synonymous term), the trumpet dress also accentuates the curves of the wearer. The difference is that the lowermost section begins at the level of the thighs rather than at the knees, so that the final flare is less pronounced (i.e. you get the effect of a semi-full skirt rather than a tail). 

6/ EMPIRE

The waistline sits high on the dress, just under the bust, thereby elongating the appearance of the body. The empire is a more formal silhouette that emphasises the bust, so enhances slender figures well. This silhouette can work well for shorter or longer torsos as the skirt starts higher up and falls loosely all the way down to the hem, and is also a great silhouette for pregnant brides as it is very flattering on baby bumps. 

Note: when it comes to dress silhouettes, lace (and where it is placed) can really enhance the look to suit the wearer. So if there is a particular silhouette you love but you’re unsure about whether it might flatter your frame, talk to the designer about possible ways of adding lace and how this might influence the overall look. 


NECKLINES

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Image by Anna Kidman Photography

7/ Bateau/Boat

This neckline sits around the level of the collarbone, and runs horizontally across from mid-shoulder to mid-shoulder. 

8/ Cowl

The fabric drapes loosely about your neck for a softer, flowing effect. 

9/ Halter

The straps tie at the back of the neck; the front of the neckline can vary (e.g. sweetheart, v-neck etc.).

10/ High Collar

The fabric of this dress covers the chest as well as the base of the neck. Higher-necked designs create a more demure and classy look, and can be coupled with an illusion neckline for a more contemporary feel. 

11/ Illusion

This neckline has a sheer panel of fabric attached over a lower, strapless neckline. The panel can be unadorned or feature details such as handcrafted flowers, crystal or pearl beading, or lace.  

12/ Jewel

A neckline that encircles the base of the neck, covering the entire chest. Classically, this neckline is for sleeveless dresses with a very tailored silhouette. 

13/ Off-The-Shoulder 

The fabric of the dress drapes over the upper arms, leaving the collarbone and shoulders bare.

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Image by Stephan & Nakita Co.

14/ Portrait 

This neckline sits lower than the bateau, and instead of straps has a shawl-like feature that drapes around the side of the shoulders. The wider neckline gives a flattering view of the chest without showing too much cleavage, so this is a neckline that helps create a feminine and elegant look. 

15/ Queen Anne 

Traditionally with a higher collar at the back (modern designs tend to have shorter collars), and partially open at the front with a sweetheart, scoop, or V-neck. This neckline pairs exquisitely with a dropped waist (where the waistline of the dress sits below the natural level of the bride’s waistline).

16/ Sabrina

Like the bateau neckline, only it demurely sits a few centimetres higher. 

17/ Scoop 

This curved neckline is like the bottom of a circle. Depending on the design, this can show off varying amounts of decolletage. 

18/ Square

A straight, horizontal neckline that meets perpendicularly with the straps, creating a square-shape. 

19/ Sweetheart

Like the top of a heart, this neckline consists of semicircular fabric overlying each breast. 

20/ V-Neck

The decolletage is exposed via a V-shaped neckline.


LENGTHS

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Image by Hollow & Co.

21/ Floor Length

The skirt gently skims the ground, obscuring the view of the shoes. 

22/ Ballerina

The full skirt will fall just above your ankles; the shoes are clearly visible. 

23/ Cocktail Length/Tea-Length

The skirt falls to the level of the mid-calf. Classically a tea-length dress will have a form-fitting bodice and fuller skirt. Perfect for weddings channeling a vintage aesthetic. 

24/ High-Low

Shorter at the front (with the hem falling somewhere below the level of the knees)  and gradually becoming longer to reach the floor at the back. The effect is like having a small train built into the silhouette of your dress. 

25/ Knee-Length

The skirt falls at the knee, or just below. 

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Image by The Lauren and Delwyn Project



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